While thrown into stark relief by recent events, the move towards remote working has been a consistent theme in modern business. From truly digital nomads to flexi-working parents, remote working is already a fact of life for millions. However, a truly location-agnostic business is more than just working from home with a laptop, both technologically and in human terms.
Caroline Lucas-Conwell, Head of Demand Generation at Checkout.com explains some of the broader challenges: “Location-agnostic is an interesting concept when you're running a global business that provides a solution for businesses around the world. One still ends up having to consider the core elements of being global; time zones are one factor and localisation (language and cultural) is another.”
However, as the recent pandemic has shown, some challenges are far harder to predict. Caroline Lucas-Conwell adds: “Interestingly enough, having a workforce that is virtual and remote isn't necessarily the challenge here - it's how we enable ‘business as usual’ when the climate isn't ‘business as usual’.”
Remote working is here to stay
While ‘business as usual’ has certainly changed of late, there are plenty of indicators that remote working and online collaboration are here to stay. In early March 2020, video conferencing giant Zoom announced it had increased its customer base by 61% in the past financial year, with a total of 81,900 global customers. With such success, however, comes a new set of challenges, as Facebook demonstrated more recently.
Fast forward just three weeks into late March, and Facebook reported that, thanks to COVID lockdowns, messaging traffic had rocketed across all the company's platforms, which include WhatsApp and Instagram. Italy, in particular, saw messaging increase over 50% and time spent in group calls (i.e. calls with three or more participants) increase by over 1,000% during the height of the crisis.
Responding to market changes requires a large degree of operational flexibility. As Caroline Lucas-Conwell points out: “Responding to challenges like these goes back to the fundamentals of planning, preparation and future proofing where possible. It ranges from having a sound business structure with stable cash flow and cost centres, to enabling flexible work policies for employees, and having contingency plans in place. It is about being prepared and being agile.”
Contingency planning is essential
Part of that best-practice preparation will concern contingency planning, especially in high-demand sectors such as SaaS providers, cloud managers and finance. Assessing the overall enterprise business processes and identifying those most at risk in certain scenarios is a vital element of contingency planning. This is true whether for an unexpected pandemic, or something more localised, such as a flooding incident around a key business location.
Having identified these risks, key staff can then be equipped with the relevant equipment. And, crucially, processes can be implemented so that there is minimal to no break in service. Mandating video conferencing platforms, workflow tools and testing hardware all play their part.
Natalia Talkowska, the founder of Natalka Design gives us her perspective: “We are lucky in that there are so many tools to help collaboration. The tricky bit is actually finding the right digital fit for your business. A lot of companies will have just picked a big name out of a hat, with no time to test, and are now battling to learn the tools on the fly, which isn’t ideal. Even taking a short time to test a solution, set up the different working groups (sales, marketing, etc.) and trial a few everyday scenarios will help enormously.”
Facebook’s solution to the short-term capacity challenge in Europe has been to ‘temporarily reduce bit rates for videos on Facebook and Instagram’ according to a post from Alex Schultz, vice president of analytics. However, longer term strategies are urgently required elsewhere, such as the events industry.
Event industry goes virtual
From the 2020 Olympics to Mobile World Congress, the COVID-19 pandemic put real world events on hold around the globe. Some, hopefully, are merely delayed, while other organisers are set to cancel an entire annual cycle. However, the positive result has been a rush to create compelling digital events with similar brand values.
Sporting events have been particularly affected, but as Formula 1 demonstrated with its first ever Virtual Grand Prix, there is plenty of mileage to be had in virtual events. The organisers managed to put on a virtual event with a full pundit and commentary team plus celebrities including singer Liam Payne and cyclist Sir Chris Hoy.
Natalia Talkowska continues: “We do a lot of work with large events, and now have become a bit of a consultancy for those organisers. They want to create digital/virtual events, but there are a lot of questions to be considered and answered in the process. Inviting 500 people to a webinar is one thing, but how do you manage breaks and networking? How do you deal with lower attention spans online?
“There are no hard and fast rules here. Businesses and organisers need to test out specific ideas for their audience - successful or not - and learn from them. The one overall thinking point, though, is that you need to pay so much more attention to the visual side of presenting information when communicating remotely. That might be incorporating video or other media. This is essential - visual aids can boost learning and retention by up to 80%.”
Beware of pitfalls
While the opportunities of digital are considerable, there are of course pitfalls to trap the unwary, especially in the fragmented circumstances of remote working. It is here that the combination of robust processes and appropriate technology really shines, especially in the case of asset management. Having a cloud-based central repository of assets that can be queried from any web browser, but that remains secure and access-controlled, is a huge boom for national or internationally distributed companies.
By enabling businesses to create their own asset management workflows and link those to specific staff roles, Imagen’s digital asset management (DAM) platform ensures that processes are not only followed, but automated. This saves time on complex admin, such as manual tagging or version control, which are often the first casualty of time-poor workers.
Workers are the key
As Ian Robson, Managing Director at That Media Thing, says: “As a successful global content and digital marketing agency, the ability to collaborate and work remotely is part of our DNA. This is no accident. Establishing the policies and processes necessary at the very outset means that all employees are able to operate seamlessly regardless of location, whatever the challenges of the moment.”
Natalia Talkowska agrees that placing emphasis on the human aspect of operations is a crucial part of long-term success: “The two big things that get forgotten in the remote working rush actually become the most important things in the medium/long term - micro connections, and individual mental health.
“These are heavily interlinked, but micro connections are those quick chats at work, the odd shared joke, and passing conversation. They are the first thing to get lost in the blizzard of remote working ‘communications’, but vital to keep company morale up and continue that sense of belonging. They also play a large part in mental health, which can be a huge issue for workers suddenly cut off from their usual social ties. Managers need to take a few moments just to check in with their teams - not just on a business level, but an ‘are you OK’ level too...”
The right tools for the job
Having the right tools and platforms is just as important as having the right workforce and mindset, as Ian Robson at That Media Thing adds: “There can be a tendency to just ‘make do’ with the software tools you have, or rely on freemium solutions simply because of cost. However, this only creates baked-in inefficiencies that can cost the business in the long run. As an agency that works with terabytes of digital media, especially video, a digital asset management solution such as Imagen is an essential component, not a ‘nice to have’.”
In the final analysis, it is the delicate combination of people, processes and technology that create successful businesses. Remote working might have been thrust upon many in a short space of time, but it’s an essential part of doing business now, and in the future. Having the right tools and processes are essential to providing the resilience and flexibility needed to overcome and exceed the many challenges that still lay ahead.
Discover how Imagen’s digital asset management platform can help your business to embrace remote working and rise to the challenges of today, as well as those of a more location-agnostic future.